The story is narrated by a young girl named Jean LouiseFinch, who is almost always called by her nickname, Scout. Scoutstarts to explain the circumstances that led to the broken arm thather older brother, Jem, sustained many years earlier; she beginsby recounting her family history. The first of her ancestors tocome to America was a fur-trader and apothecary named Simon Finch,who fled England to escape religious persecution and establisheda successful farm on the banks of the Alabama River. The farm, calledFinch’s Landing, supported the family for many years. The firstFinches to make a living away from the farm were Scout’s father,Atticus Finch, who became a lawyer in the nearby town of Maycomb,and his brother, Jack Finch, who went to medical school in Boston.Their sister, Alexandra Finch, stayed to run the Landing.

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A successful lawyer, Atticus makes a solidliving in Maycomb, a tired, poor, old town in the grips of the GreatDepression. He lives with Jem and Scout on Maycomb’s main residentialstreet. Their cook, an old black woman named Calpurnia, helps toraise the children and keep the house. Atticus’s wife died whenScout was two, so she does not remember her mother well. But Jem, fouryears older than Scout, has memories of their mother that sometimesmake him unhappy.

In the summer of 1933, when Jemis nearly ten and Scout almost six, a peculiar boy named CharlesBaker Harris moves in next door. The boy, who calls himself Dill,stays for the summer with his aunt, Miss Rachel Haverford, who ownsthe house next to the Finches’. Dill doesn’t like to discuss hisfather’s absence from his life, but he is otherwise a talkativeand extremely intelligent boy who quickly becomes the Finch children’schief playmate. All summer, the three act out various stories thatthey have read. When they grow bored of this activity, Dill suggeststhat they attempt to lure Boo Radley, a mysterious neighbor, outof his house.

Arthur “Boo” Radley lives in the run-down Radley Place,and no one has seen him outside it in years. Scout recounts how,as a boy, Boo got in trouble with the law and his father imprisonedhim in the house as punishment. He was not heard from until fifteenyears later, when he stabbed his father with a pair of scissors.Although people suggested that Boo was crazy, old Mr. Radley refusedto have his son committed to an asylum. When the old man died, Boo’s brother,Nathan, came to live in the house with Boo. Nevertheless, Boo continuedto stay inside.

Dill is fascinated by Boo and tries to convince the Finchchildren to help him lure this phantom of Maycomb outside. Eventually,he dares Jem to run over and touch the house. Jem does so, sprinting backhastily; there is no sign of movement at the Radley Place, althoughScout thinks that she sees a shutter move slightly, as if someonewere peeking out.


There was no hurry, for there was nowhereto go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to seeoutside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vagueoptimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently beentold that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.

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See Important Quotations Explained

The story that constitutes almost the entirety of ToKill a Mockingbird is set in the time between Scout Finch’sfifth and ninth birthdays, but Scout presumably commences the first-personnarrative that opens the novel much later in her life. As a result,the narrative voice fluctuates between the child’s point of view,chronicling the events as they happen, and the adult voice, lookingback on her childhood many years later. The child’s naïve voicedominates the central plot, allowing the reader to make connectionsand understand events in a way that the young Scout does not. Atthe same time, the narrative often digresses into anecdotes or descriptions presentedretrospectively, like Scout’s depiction of Maycomb in the firstchapter: “Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town whenI first knew it. . . . Somehow, it was hotter then . . .

eoplemoved slowly then.” Here, Lee’s language indicates an adult’s recollectionrather than a girl’s experience.